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It’s been widely reported that the current pandemic has seen an increase in the number of people adopting pets, the RSPCA in particular announcing record interest in the rehousing of cats and dogs. With more time spent at home, as well as the need for companionship, many have seized the opportunity to welcome a new pooch or moggie to their household. If you have your own house that should not be a problem but what if you live in a rented or strata apartment?

If you are renting and have signed a lease it’s generally agreed that you abide by the terms that your landlord has set down. If the lease says ‘no pets’ that’s something you sign off on before you take up that residence. But what if you own an apartment in a strata building and a consensus of other residents say no pets.

That, unfortunately, is the scenario that seems to be facing a number of apartment dwelling pet owners right across Sydney. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported on an ongoing barney at two of Sydney’s tallest and most upmarket apartment blocks, the Elan and the Horizon, over the rights of residents to have pets.

In November of 2019 the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) ruled that the 260 apartment Horizon block in Darlinghurst should immediately scrap its ban on owners housing pets. However, last week both the Elan and the Horizon had the judgement overturned on appeal with far reaching implications for other strata owners throughout NSW. Representing both buildings, barrister Richard Gration called the decision “a victory for democracy”, adding “if owners want to live with pets, then they should choose buildings that allow them.”

So much for the Manhattanisation of Sydney or our place as one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities. In most international cities like New York or London it’s a given that apartment owners have the right to keep a pet and they do so in great numbers. Most New Yorkers for example would see it as a constitutional right to keep a whole variety of animals, from cats and dogs, exotic birds and even the odd ocelot.

What the total pet ban upheld by the NCAT encompasses remains to be seen. Can you keep a budgie for example, a goldfish or even a jar full of sea monkeys and what if you are blind and require a seeing eye dog?

Back in the mid 1980s I lived in an Elizabeth Bay apartment block where the residents were at the mercy of an officious and tyrannical live in caretaker. It was not a strata block, we were all renting, but Joe the caretaker ruled the building with an iron fist – often spying on selected renters and abusing them for the slightest misdemeanour like having your TV too loud or inviting friends over late at night.

He also enforced a strict no pets ruling and constantly targeted one elderly resident who keep a tiny chihuahua in her flat. On one occasion he supposedly removed a strip of rubber that covered a gap when you were entering the old fashioned lift, no doubt hoping the tiny dog would plummet to its death down the shaft.

After he had continually terrorised me for over two years, falsely reporting me to the real estate agent with a series of absurd allegations, I decided to fight back. He was notorious for roaming the apartment block during the day, his ear up against people’s doors, hoping to hear a stereo that was a decibel too loud or any kind of nefarious chit chat.

I had an old Revox reel to reel tape recorder at the time and knowing his hatred of dogs, I recorded the sound of a dog barking which I rigged as a continuous loop. Whenever I went out I would switch on the tape, not loud enough to annoy my neighbours, but certainly discernible to an invasive ear hard up on the door.

It didn’t take long before he was banging on my door, accusing me of housing a dog and threatening to have me evicted. I naturally denied everything, inviting him to inspect the apartment and see for himself there was no canine companion. After he had opened every kitchen cupboard and half crawled under the bed he left totally bamboozled. I immediately switched the loop back on and the deception continued for weeks until one morning he was found dead from a heart attack in his ground floor apartment.

I accept no blame but a massive sigh of relief and feeling of liberation went through the entire building, and “Tiny” the chihuahua roamed free thereafter!

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